Book Review – The Change Room by Karen Connelly

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TITLE: 
The Change Room
AUTHOR: Karen Connelly
PAGES:  320 pages
PUBLISHED: April 11th 2017
PUBLISHER: Random House Canada
GENRE: Romance, LGBT, Adult Fiction

MY RATING: 3/5 birds

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SUMMARY:

Eliza Keenan is the mother of two boys, a business owner and wife to a math professor named Andrew. Her life is defined by her family and she only gets time to herself when she goes for her twice-weekly swim at the community pool. One day she meets a mysterious and intriguing young woman who she nicknames “The Amazon”. The weekly meet ups turn into an illicit affair between the two woman, which threatens her entire world but can something that makes Eliza feel so good, be really that bad?

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MY REVIEW

This type of contemporary story isn’t something I would normally pick up but I am trying to make an effort to read more novels by Canadian authors and when I saw this on NetGalley I was intrigued. There were aspects that I liked (the writing) and disliked (the characters/story) which lead to three stars.

I was conflicted about Eliza. I didn’t actively dislike her but it was hard to get behind the white, upper-middle-class whining. She complained about balancing work, kids and marriage in her white suburban life and it was really hard to give a damn. This isn’t to say that I don’t think her issues are legitimate to her but it was a bit boring to read over and over again. I also don’t have kids so I really could not relate to how much of the novel was focused on them, most of which was her complaining.

I also thought she was incredibly selfish and a bit ridiculous. For example there is a paragraph where Eliza is describing in detail how much she cleans (*yawn*) around the house and how her mother told her the way to ruin a good marriage is to keep score of who did what. So Eliza “did many tasks herself, resentfully, or in a state of resigned oblivion, often late at night after the kids had gone to bed.”

Yes…because resentfully doing anything in your marriage is super healthy, right? And then the next sentence is about how Andrew suggested hiring a cleaner, which he did himself, but in Eliza’s words after “a couple of duds and one klutz” she went back to resentfully cleaning everything herself.

Oh lord. First, just the fact that you can afford a cleaning should be enough. This is not a cheap service in Canada and I only know a few well-off family friends that have cleaners. Eliza sounds so uptight, even people that clean professionally are not up to her standard and she would rather “suffer resentfully” then work with someone. Then she wonders why her marriage is failing?

Stories like this are always a bit uncomfortable for me, personally. I have a pretty strict moral code when it comes to cheating so it hard for me to understand Eliza’s POV, even if we are told how bad of a husband Andrew is or how stressful her life is, I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t end things before cheating/having an affair.

I was also surprised at how much detailed sex there was in this. Now, if you look at the books I read on Goodreads you see I have read a lot of erotica, bdsm, LGBT stuff so it wasn’t that I am a prude, it just did not work for me. It was really distracting from the actual storytelling and it felt like the author added it for “shock value” which I did not like.

The Quebecois woman was also bit stereotyped in my opinion, and also the line about Eliza’s brother (I think?) who works in the oil rigs in Alberta and makes a ton of money, most of which “goes up his nose”. While that is true for some rig workers it’s a terrible stereotype and so cliché. It also makes other Canadians look down upon Alberta.

I would be interested in reading other novels by Karen Connelly, the writing itself was very well done and I wish I had like this more but unfortunately it just did not work for me.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Canada for letting me read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review – Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World

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TITLE: Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World
AUTHOR: Doug Saunders
PAGES:  384 pages
PUBLISHED: October 4th 2011
PUBLISHER: Vintage Canada
GENRE: Non-Fiction, Canadian, Urban Planning, Architecture, Sociology, Economics/Politics

MY RATING: 4/5 birds
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SUMMARY:

The twenty-first century is entering an epoch that is reshaping our cities and economies by the appearance of Arrival Cities, a term coined by Saunders, which explains the final migration from the rural village to urban areas. This isn’t a localised event focused on the developing world, it is a global phenomenon that is affecting everyone worldwide. These arrival cities establish new lives, where immigrants integrate themselves into a new world socially and economically, to set up life for themselves and their family. Saunders explores slums, gecekondu, favlas, barriadas and various other arrival city enclaves, which provide low-cost housing usually on the outskirts of major cities for individuals to gain entry-level jobs and to generally provide money for their family back in the village until they can make the full transition to urban and middle-class life.

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MY REVIEW

Arrival City is a richly-themed study of migration across the world, looking at a very old problem in a new way. Saunders casts arrival cities in a positive light, especially the slums which were previously thought as dysfunctional but as he explains, are very organised and an integral part of our society. He explains clearly the role that is needed for producing functional arrival cities and more of the process of acculturation than total immersion. I personally enjoyed this book and how he provided an unromanticized view of village life which is still a big hindrance for governments resisting arrival cities as they have a warped sense of village struggles and culture. I also enjoyed how he humanised the phenomenon by introducing us to real individuals and their personal stories. From this I could make the connection from my own families immigrant history to Canada, and the migrants presented in the story, and perhaps our lives aren’t so different even thousands of miles away.

I noticed that Saunders omitted any discussion about the role of economic growth in playing a part of raising the living standards of migrants. In places like China and Brazil, countries he wrote about, their economies are growing at an alarming rate and at what point does the wealth trickle down to the poor? Following the ‘trickle-down theory’ which essentially gives tax breaks to business which in turn creates more jobs for lower and middle class individuals and leads to goods at lower prices, these seem like all things that would be very beneficial to migrants who are in need of jobs and cheaper goods but Saunders doesn’t speak much about the effect economics play into arrival cities.
Saunders raises many issues not just about what is happening right now but for the future of our cities. After I read the book, I wonder what the consequences of mass migration to cities with non-functioning enclaves in the future will be, especially if governments continue to ignore communities that feel complete isolation and then diverge into more extremist ways of living

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Book Review -Us (Him #2)

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TITLE: Us (Him #2)
AUTHOR: Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy
PAGES:  328 pages
PUBLISHED: March 8th, 2016
PUBLISHER: Rennie Road Books
GENRE: New Adult, Romance, Friends to Lovers.

MY RATING: 5/5 birds

Rating - 5 Bird

SUMMARY:

This is the continuation of the Him series. Ryan Wesley is now in the NHL and having an amazing rookie season. Not only is his career taking off but the rest of his life is perfect as well, because he gets to come home to Jamie Canning every night. Having his best friend turned boyfriend at his side he feels unstoppable. The only problem is no one knows just how happy he is because no one in the media or on his team knows he in a relationship or even gay. Jamie wants to be supportive but he hates the secrecy and hiding everything and isn’t sure how long he can take the pressure.

When secrets begin to unravel when Wes’ teammate moves to the same apartment as Wes and Jamie, can they make things work and keep hiding the truth from the world or will their perfect private bubble burst?

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MY REVIEW:

“Love is friendship set on fire.”

Wes and Jamie are my favourite book couple, hands down. I wish their story would never end…or at least there was one more book after this! I just loved this so much. It was very similar to the first novel; well written, hilarious, emotional, and very steamy. The dialogue was amazing as per usual. Here is a sample of some of the lines:

Eh. There’s no way Blake made that connection. He’s probably over there wondering whether he’d be more likely to encounter a seventeen-foot velociraptor on a beach or in the mountains.

I’ve missed the warm-ups and make it to my seat just at the end of the national anthem. I’m quite proficient at “O Canada” these days. Had to learn the lyrics for my juniors team. The coach can’t just stand there and mouth “watermelon watermelon watermelon” like an asshole.

The drama was perfect as well. There was some miscommunication and issues with Jamie’s health but everything was believable and it didn’t ever make me frustrated like lots of melodrama does in NA books. I even got a bit emotional when Wes called Cindy and called her “Mom”. Ugh, that just made me die a little inside with happiness. Also, the romance did take a back seat in this novel compared to the first one, as Wes and Jamie have more problems than ever before but I didn’t mind it. All the steamy scenes were perfectly placed and I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything.

I also loved all the talk about Canada, being a Canadian myself. I haven’t ever lived in Toronto (I am from the west coast) but I have many friends who do and it was cool reading about Canada in a popular book because usually novels are American focused and even Canadian writers write in American cities.

I especially loved when Jamie was complaining about the cold Toronto winters and wind chill and not wanting to leave his apartment.
I feel ya Jamie.

And when the authors used the term “gong show” I nearly died. I think it is a common word in the states but it originated in the Canadian junior hockey culture. I know it’s such a small thing but this kind of attention to detail makes me really appreciate Bowen and Kennedy.

Seriously, my only complaint is I wish there were more books with Wes and Jamie! I am pretty darn excited to read the spin-off series, starting with Good Boy (WAGs, #1) which stars Jamie’s sister Jess and Blake. I love both of them, especially Blake, so I think it will a great read and I am sure it will include moments with Wes and Jamie so I am really looking forward to that!

Some people were complaining that they wanted (view spoiler) but I am super happy to have a full novel by Bowen and Kennedy because they seriously can do no wrong!

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Book Review -Him

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TITLE: Him
AUTHOR: Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy
PAGES:  360 pages
PUBLISHED: July 28th 2015
PUBLISHER: Rennie Road Books
GENRE: New Adult, Romance, Friends to Lovers.

MY RATING: 5/5 birds

Rating - 5 Bird

SUMMARY:

Jamie Canning and Ryan Wesley have been best friends until a friendly competition turned into something more and Wes cut Jamie out of his life.Pushing the boundaries of their friendship was Wes’ goal but afterwards he regrets his actions.

Four years later after no contact, Wes is ready to apologise to Jamie, his very straight friend, who he is now facing off on the ice with their respective college teams. One look at Jamie though and Wes’ resolutions come to a stand still. His feelings have never changed but does Jamie feel the same way?

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MY REVIEW:

“I can’t fucking do this again. I can’t let myself want him or get my hopes up about the two of us. He’s my friend. He’ll always be my friend and nothing more.”

Jamie and Wes make such an adorable couple! I loved them right off the bat. The novel starts with flashbacks to one pivotal night between the two former best friends when they attended hockey camp that changes their friendship. Wes can’t deal with what happens and stops talking to Jamie. Years later, after they both graduate college and are looking towards joining the NHL, they see each other again. A friendship is rekindled but other feelings rise up that aren’t so easy to define…
This was quite the steamy read and I really enjoyed it!! It’s definitely a new favourite.
I can really see Elle Kennedy shine through in this novel with all the witty and funny dialogue and I loved it! For example:

“I’m attracted to women, no doubt about it.
I’m also attracted to men, apparently. Wonderful.
Complicated fellow, my dick.”

Anything to get my Kennedy fix after The Deal series haha. She seriously has a way with words though and makes men sound so realistic and age-appropriate. I don’t know how she does it! It really makes the entire novel though because I really haven’t read many M/M novels but usually they have a serious case of “chicks with dicks”, meaning the male characters all sound like the female author.

The chemistry between Wes and Jamie was off the chart. I was rooting for them from beginning to end. They treated each other so well, with love and respect but could easily banter and they obviously loved spending time together. even when they were younger and just best friends. These are my favourite stories, the friends that become lovers. I think this would be the perfect introduction to someone who was interested in m/m and had never read any before.

I seriously love this book. Even little things like what Cindy (Jamie’s mom) buys Jamie and Wes coffee mugs that say “HIS” & “HIS”:

“Mom!” Jess hollers. “The point of labeled mugs is so that they can tell them apart! You should have done their initials.”
“But then that wouldn’t amuse me,” his mother explains, grinning.

I also thought the discussion between Wes and Jamie regarding porn and what is expected of gay men was very well done. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be, on top of coming out to your friends and family, to even understand how to together with someone since you may not have a lot to reference in your day to day life. I mean porn for men and women is quite awful and unrealistic as well but as least in terms of a relationship you have many examples – generally your parents are m/w, friends, and everything you see on TV. Also sex ed classes when you are a teenager, as least when I was in school, did not discuss being gay all or how any of that worked.

And lastly I just LOVED the ending and I was really glad that the novel didn’t end after [after they finally decided to commit to each other (hide spoiler)]. I really like that the authors showed us their evolving relationship and what’s to come next. I also just love Jamie’s family.

Also, just a side note but did anyone else forget that Wes’ first name was actually Ryan? Haha maybe it was just me but he was referred to as Wes so much that I thought Ryan was his last name!

SO excited to read the next book Us (Him #2)!!

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Graphic Novel Review – Skim

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TITLE: Skim
AUTHOR: Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki [illustrator]
PAGES: 140
PUBLISHED: Feburary 28th 2008
PUBLISHER: Groundwood Books
GENRE: Young Adult, Graphic Novel, GLBT, Realistic Fiction, Canada
MY RATING:
Rating - 5 Bird

SUMMARY:

Written by cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki this novel is set in the early 90’s in an all girl’s school in Toronto, Canada. Kimberly Keiko Cameron (aptly named “skim”) is a chubby, goth kid who goes through many emotions that young adults can relate to. When one of her classmates commits suicide and the whole school goes into mourning, Skim is secretly falling in love. Topics revolve around depression, suicide, falling love, heartbreak, sexuality, cliques, and experiences we’ve all had as confused teenagers just finding our footing in the world.

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I LOVE this graphic novel. My cousin bought it for me for Christmas a few years ago (he went to ACAD with Jillian Tamaki, small world). It is something I probably wouldn’t have picked up for myself but I’m so glad he gave it to me, its one of my favorite graphic novels! I love the illustration style and story line. Skim is very relate-able, it reminded me of my own self-discoveries in high school when I was trying to figure out who I was and what I loved. The plot wasn’t too crazy, there was suicide and a teacher-student relationship, but overall it was just step-by-step life, which stayed true to how I perceived high school.

And then the art is just beautiful. It has clean, strong lines and great use of white space. Jillian conveys emotion with the simple movement, it is subtle but very effective.

Overall I really enjoyed this and I am excited to see what else the cousins can come out with! I am looking forward to read their 2012 graphic novel (You) Set Me On Fire.